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The 2023 Guide to SBA 8(a) Certification: What’s New and What You Need to Know

Navigating the world of small business ownership can be both exhilarating and challenging. One crucial resource for small businesses, particularly those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, is the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development Program.

But what exactly is this program, and how can your business benefit from it? This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the SBA 8(a) Program and break down its eligibility requirements, helping you unlock opportunities for substantial business growth.

Here we'll explore how the program offers a lifeline for businesses looking to work with the federal government, from securing contracts to receiving mentorship and financial assistance.

If you're considering ways to level up your small business in a competitive marketplace, then understanding and potentially gaining 8(a) Certification could be the game-changer you've been searching for. Dive in to learn how you can tap into this valuable resource to make 2023 your business's most successful year yet!

SBA 8(a) Certification Program Overview

The SBA 8(a) initiative is a nine-year developmental program aimed at aiding small businesses that are socially and economically disadvantaged in securing federal contracts, along with offering training and technical support. To be an ideal fit for this program, your enterprise should be minority-owned and involved in manufacturing or offering products or services that the federal government is interested in purchasing.

Your enterprise also needs to fall under the 'small business' category as per your main NAICS code. Furthermore, the ownership should have financial constraints, as evident from their limited net worth, income, and total assets. Upon meeting these criteria and achieving certification, your business stands to gain valuable training that could make you more competitive in federal contract bids.

It's important to note that the program is highly selective. Even after achieving SBA 8(a) certification, there's no guarantee of winning federal contracts. According to the SBA Certify website, only 610 companies were granted 8(a) certification in 2021, and there were just 4,910 active participants in the program by the end of that year. Nevertheless, for those who qualify, becoming SBA 8(a) certified offers distinct advantages.

What are the Basic Eligibility Criteria of Small Businesses to Qualify for 8a Certification?

To be eligible for SBA 8(a) certification, a minimum of 51% of your business should be owned and managed by individuals who are both socially and economically underprivileged. These terms are outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR):

  • Socially disadvantaged people are those who have faced bias or discrimination in American society based on their group membership, such as race or ethnicity, rather than their personal attributes. This disadvantage must arise from conditions that are out of their hands.
  • On the other hand, economically disadvantaged individuals are a subset of socially disadvantaged people. Their competitiveness in the open market is hindered due to restricted access to capital and credit, especially when compared to counterparts in similar businesses who aren't socially disadvantaged.

Additional qualifications include:

  • Your business must be small-scale and based in the United States.
  • You should hold U.S. citizenship.
  • Your company should be involved in creating or providing something the U.S. government is interested in purchasing, such as technological solutions or engineering services with relevance to the military.
  • Your enterprise should have a positive history and should have been active for a minimum of two years.
  • Your business should be revenue-generating.
  • You must be able to show good moral standing and the capability to fulfill contracts effectively.

Key Benefits and Drawbacks of SBA 8(a) Business Development Program


  1. Special Federal Contracts: Being a part of the 8(a) program qualifies your business for unique government contracts, including sole-source and set-aside agreements.
  2. Individualized Support: The program grants you direct access to experts in compliance and regulations for personalized guidance.
  3. Business Skill Enhancement: The program features a Management and Technical Assistance training segment, aimed at making your business more competitive in government contract bids.
  4. Business Mentorship: The SBA's Mentor-Protégé program enables you to receive counsel from veteran government contractors.
  5. Ongoing Development Aid: While only the initial four years are designated as the developmental stage by the SBA, you can avail development and transition support throughout the entire nine-year span of the program.


  1. Extensive Application: The application process is comprehensive and time-consuming, requiring you to submit standard business documents, register with the federal government, and provide multiple forms to verify your eligibility.
  2. Restricted Qualification: Your business has to meet specific size standards set by the SBA, along with other certification criteria.
  3. One-Time Participation: Businesses can only enrol in the 8(a) program once. Upon completion of the nine-year term, you'll need to explore alternative avenues.
  4. Yearly Re-certification: To remain in the program, both your business and its owners must continually meet the program's criteria, requiring an annual re-certification process that involves additional time and paperwork.

How to Apply for 8(a) Certification Program?

Applying for the SBA 8(a) program is a thorough process that requires careful preparation and documentation to ensure that a business meets the eligibility criteria. Here’s a step-by-step guide to apply for the SBA 8(a) program:

  1. Determine Eligibility: Before starting the application, review the program’s requirements to ensure you qualify. For instance, the business should be 51% owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  2. Obtain a D-U-N-S Number: This unique nine-digit number is issued by Dun & Bradstreet and helps track and report on your business.
  3. Register in the System for Award Management (SAM): Before applying for 8(a) certification, you must first register your business in SAM, which is a database used by the federal government to identify potential contractors.
  4. Create an SBA General Login System (GLS) Account: To apply for 8(a) certification, you'll need a GLS account. After creating it, you can start the 8(a) application process through the SBA's website.
  5. Prepare Necessary Documents: You will need to gather a significant amount of documentation to prove your eligibility. This can include:
  • Personal and business tax returns
  • Financial statements
  • Business licenses
  • Ownership and asset information
  • Resumes for each principal
  1. Complete the 8(a) Application: Once logged into the website, complete the 8(a) application. This will involve answering questions about your business and uploading the required documents.
  2. Undergo Review: After submission, the SBA will review your application to determine if your business is eligible for the 8(a) program. This review process can take several months. During this time, the SBA might contact you for additional information or clarification.
  3. Attend an Orientation Session: If your application is approved, you will need to attend an orientation session provided by your local SBA district office. This will introduce you to the program and its benefits.
  4. Maintain Compliance: Once accepted, ensure that your business remains compliant with the program's requirements. This will involve annual reviews and potential re-certifications.
  5. Leverage the Benefits: Once certified, you can start bidding on set-aside and sole-source contracts. Consider also utilizing the business training, counselling, and other assistance provided under the program.

Remember that the process is competitive and rigorous. It’s crucial to be thorough and accurate in your application and provide all requested documentation in a timely manner. If unsure about any part of the process, consider seeking advice from a business counsellor or consultant familiar with the SBA 8(a) program.

2023 Changes: What’s New in SBA 8(a) Certification?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) regularly reviews and updates the regulations and guidelines for its 8(a) Business Development Program to better adapt to the needs of small businesses and the economic environment.

If you're interested in what changes could likely happen, these are some areas where the SBA might introduce new rules or modifications:

  1. Financial Eligibility: The SBA could adjust the financial thresholds for defining economically disadvantaged individuals, including changes to net worth, income, or total assets.
  2. Certification Process: The application and review process could be streamlined or expanded to make it easier for businesses to apply or to enhance the verification process.
  3. Federal Contracting: The types and amounts of federal contracts that are set aside for 8(a) certified businesses might be adjusted to either broaden or narrow the scope of available opportunities.
  4. Mentor-Protégé Program: Regulations concerning the mentorship program could be modified to either simplify collaboration between new and established businesses or to add new layers of oversight.
  5. Training and Resources: New types or formats of business development assistance, training modules, or resources could be introduced to better assist businesses in the program.
  6. Compliance and Reviews: The criteria for ongoing compliance and the frequency or type of reviews and audits could be changed.

The Bottom Line

The SBA 8(a) Certification offers an invaluable lifeline for small businesses operating in a fiercely competitive landscape. Whether you're a newcomer or already familiar with the program, understanding the 2023 changes can empower your business like never before. From exclusive access to federal contracts to enriching mentorship opportunities and extensive training modules, the advantages are manifold.

However, these benefits come with their own set of challenges, including stringent eligibility criteria and a comprehensive application process. But for those who successfully navigate this labyrinth, the rewards can be transformative.

As we navigate the ever-evolving economic climate, staying abreast of the latest updates to the SBA 8(a) program is not just smart—it's essential for your business' growth and success.

Now more than ever, knowledge is your most potent asset. So, make the most of it and let your business soar to new heights.